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Velma Bishop: Mom is gone
by Andrew Barbano
Oct 02, 2010 | 745 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
She had no idea when she signed on to manage the headquarters of a long-ago congressional campaign that she would also become house mother to both a fraternity and a sorority. We were not quite Animal House denizens back in 1972, but we sure came close at times.

Mom straightened out us kids on more than one occasion. She also was not shy about telling the candidate and his heavy hitters from Las Vegas a thing or seven about northern Nevada politics.

Former Rep. Jim Bilbray, D-Nev., today stands among Velma Bishop’s many mourners. Mom died at age 81 last Tuesday in Reno. She left children and grandchildren, dozens and perhaps hundreds unofficially adopted. That includes me.

You never know, especially in your younger years, what happenstance could affect you forever. The friends I made during Bilbray’s first run for congress 38 years ago have lasted a lifetime.

Nowadays, it seems Jim and I talk most often when I’m relaying news about one of the oldtimers who has left for the big voting booth in the sky. We also occasionally chat about Harry Reid, Bilbray’s former colleague both in congress and from their college days when both served as capitol police officers. It’s too bad that Velma’s not around to sit down with Sen. Harry and lecture him on the continuing differences between northern and southern Nevada follytix.

The year of recoronation of King Richard the Rotten promised to be tough on Democrats. In 1972, Velma’s husband, Gail, was Democratic Gov. Mike O’Callaghan’s assistant labor commissioner. Big Mike chose well. Gail Alexander Bishop of Operating Engineers Local 3 walked easily through both union halls and into the cherrywood offices of the rich and powerful. His calling card was the integrity of an honest man. People trusted him with good reason. (I still hold onto a few Gail Bishop political war stories which will be published when the time is right.)

Gail and Velma were distinguished by all the helping hands they held out to so many others for so many years. When Gail died in 1994, his 45th year of marriage, I of course attended his memorial service. I was dumbfounded by the steady stream of people who told stories about how this bright and funny man had enriched their lives - stuff that I never knew and that he would never brag about.

That’s how Mr. Bishop lived. People asked me why I said nothing when the time came for personal remembrances. How could I say that this overly loquacious Italian had been rendered speechless. Like members of the family, I was surprised at all the complete strangers or people we barely knew who stood up to recount how Gail and Velma had helped them.

 I couldn’t think of anything to add. Gail’s quiet good works were so expansive that it turned out I barely knew him.

Gail and Velma were the perfect match both in their personal lives and public service. Mom volunteered to help special needs children, raised funds for charitable organizations and was very involved with her church. Her kindness knew no limits.

A couple of years back, Nevada historian and good-guy Republican Neal Cobb gave me a copy of something I had forgotten, a 104-page booklet entitled “Cooking the Democratic Way: An eclectic personal stew of personal favorites collected by the Democratic Party of Washoe County.”

Union-printed and published in 1978, it contains several hundred Donkeyite from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt to Carolyn O’Callaghan. For me, it’s filled with sweet memories of old friends.

It also reminded me of better times in our public life, when there was room for serious discussion by serious people who might have often disagreed. It also recalled a time when local and national Democrats knew how to kick butt when necessary.

Velma Bishop’s passing is another marker on the highway toward the devolution of our Democracy from all you need is love to all you need is anger.

We will remember our spiritual Mom with love at 10 a.m. on Monday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 2050 Robb Drive, across from McQueen High in northwest Reno.

Reid rage

“I can’t stomach Angle but I hate Reid, so I don’t know how I’m going to vote.” So said a Republican union man I encountered a few weeks ago. I asked him what he’s got against Sen. Reid.

“What’s he done for us?”

Unlike political junkies like me, who can immediately recall somebody’s resumé, most people don’t have an answer.

I ran into a flaming liberal Democratic woman who asked the same question. I checked off a quick list of Reid’s greatest hits, starting with his securing the rights to 90 percent of the waters of the Truckee River for Nevada about 20 years ago.

“So what’s he done for us lately?” Aaargh.

In 1998, Sen. Reid rightly noted that Nevada was home to hundreds of thousands of new residents who didn’t know him. He needs to reintroduce himself and his compelling life story all over again, something he has thus far failed to do.

Velma Bishop might agree.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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Brenda Nicholas
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October 03, 2010
Your descriptions of Gail and Velma are wonderful. We have now lost two great Bishops. Luckily, there are some great ones to carry on the family name.
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